NYPL About Face on 42nd Street May Impact Brooklyn Heights Library

The New York Times reported Wednesday that due to public opposition as well as spiraling costs, the New York Public Library will not undertake a massive renovation of its flagship headquarters at 42nd Street. The NYPL’s decision will likely have impact throughout the city, particularly in relation to the Brooklyn Public Library’s controversial proposal to raise much-needed capital funds by selling select branch locations.

In backing away from the contentious Central Library Plan — put forth more than seven years ago as a means to reinvent the library’s historic Carrère and Hastings building — NYPL President Tony Marx acknowledged that a recent change in city government as well as fierce public opposition were simply too much to overcome.


“When the facts change, the only right thing to do as a public-serving institution is to take a look with fresh eyes and see if there is a way to improve the plans and to stay on budget,” Marx was quoted by the Times’ Robin Pogrebin.

In an e-mail response to a BHB inquiry about the NYPL’s decision, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s spokesperson Marti Adams said: “Over the past year, Mayor de Blasio has been clear that the New York Public Library must provide the public with realistic estimates of the projected costs of any proposed renovation to insure it can be executed within budget, protect the accessibility of all of the library’s facilities and resources so that they’re available to every New Yorker, and ensure that any plan it puts forward strengthens the community branches in the NYPL system as well as its research system.”

As reported by the Times, $150 million in taxpayer funds allocated by the Bloomberg administration for the Central Library Project will now be used by the NYPL for “other purposes.” Ms. Marti stated that “the Administration is pleased to see that the updated proposal addresses these priorities.”

One Brooklyn Heights resident particularly pleased by the NYPL’s about face was Michael D.D. White, co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries. Mr. White was confident about the decision’s impact on public libraries throughout the city, including the BPL’s Cadman Plaza branch.

“I think it [the NYPL’s decision] is absolutely appropriate and the thing that we should be doing,” Mr. White said in a telephone interview. “With the abandonment of this plan we are not selling libraries or shrinking them and getting rid of books to the same extent we were.”

The NYPL’s plan to fund their grand 42nd Street project by selling off the Mid-Manhattan library and the Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) echos the BPL’s proposal to sell its Brooklyn Heights and Pacific branches to raise capital funds for other BPL sites. The BPL recently backed away from selling the Pacific branch, but has fielded proposals from seven developers for a residential building on the Brooklyn Heights branch site that would contain a substantially smaller library.

White and his supporters have challenged both the BPL and the NYPL, and the long-time Brooklyn Heights resident sees parallels in his fights with the city’s two largest public libraries. “The most important thing was to bring to light the fact that the public was always vehemently opposed to the plans once they understood the underlying facts,” White said about CDL’s public and social media protests. “The other thing that we did was to make clear that the fates of all the other libraries in the city were interlinked and that it wasn’t just the Central Library Plan where libraries were being sold and shrunk.”

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Saying that he had “qualms” about the Mayor’s decision to allow $150 million to remain at the NYPL’s discretion, White suggested that “Brooklyn and Queens should have a claim on some of that money—money that was boondoggle to begin with. The fact that everything in the Central Library Plan was going to cost a phenomenal amount isn’t a reason to be sending all that money to the NYPL which only serves Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island.”

Acknowledging a substantial victory for his and other opposition groups, the CDL leader said “I am cheered that we can achieve success, but we can’t rest on our laurels. There are more libraries to save, like SIBL, Brooklyn Heights, Pacific Street, Clinton Hill. Future victories aren’t going to come without hard work.”

Photo: Noticing New York

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  • Joker

    come on marsha, it’s been 30 minutes since this posted… i’m having a hard time waiting for it….

  • Height Resident

    thanks for writing this article.

    I’m glad the NYPL backed out of this plan. it was ill-designed (pun intended) from the get go.

    now I really hope it gives pause also to BPL’s plans to do something similar, or worse, by selling some of its branches, starting with the one in Cadman Plaza.

    it is never a good idea to sell public property, specially one that houses such an essential service like libraries and hospitals.

    only the developers and people at BPL (who may or may not get some kick backs) truly believe it is a great idea.

    it wont address all the funding needs for BPL, meaning they will still have to sell other branches, the branch will be closed for years, the entire neighborhood suffers with more density, noise, trafic and we — taxpayers — suffer by transferring our taxes to the developers funding these luxury constructions.

    let us say “no” to all of this and as BPL’s president Linda Johnson to honour her fiduciary duties by protecting these branches instead of trying to sell them.

  • Activist

    Bravo for public pressure and law suits. Now is the time to sharpen the attacks on the real estate backed plan to sell the Brooklyn Heights library. No more land grabs from the real estate industry on our public assets. Go find your own land-this land is our land.

  • marshasrimler

    hi Joker. how are you

  • marshasrimler

    way to go.. yeh

  • marshasrimler

    way to go yeh

  • marshasrimler

    The BPL needs to also do the right thing. we all need to work together to get all of Brooklyn’s branches up to par and ready for the future.. Eric Adams is the key here and I believe he will do what needs to be done for all of us

  • hickstreetvoter

    How dare you make accusations that BPL staff are getting kickbacks. No matter what your view of the project, demeaning hard working public servants is a low blow.
    Brooklyn Heights Blog should NOT tolerate postings that make slanderous and baseless allegations.

  • marshasrimler

    so joker its been 44 minutes since my post …

  • dwclinton

    There are several very important differences between the NYPL’s proposal and the BPL’s proposal that this article sadly ignores.
    1) BPL’s plan is to build a brand new library at no cost….whereas NYPL’s plan had numbers and costs that never made sense and a huge commitment of City capital, the BPL project is designed not to cost the City anything. As a taxpayer who already forks over too much of my salary to the City I’m happy with that.
    2) There is far more public oversight of the BPL project. As the library in Brooklyn Heights is a publicly owned building the BPL project has to go through ULURP, which allows a lot of discussion and negotation. NYPL was selling privately owned real estate and didn’t have any oversight whatsoever.
    3) BPL is REPLACING our library with a brand new, still publicly owned, still public library. Sorry, no amount of Marsha Rimmler and Michael White’s lying will change the basic, unalterable facts that there WILL be a new library, and it WILL STILL BE OWNED BY THE PUBLIC!!! So to start this article simply by saying that BPL is “selling libraries” is at best lazy journalism, at worst purposefull obfuscation.
    4) The author recognizes that the BPL has abandoned its plans to sell the Pacific St. building, than goes on to let the CDL crazies claim without any counter whatsoever that both the Clinton Hill and Pacific St. libraries are being sold. Where, ever, at what point, in what forum, has BPL EVER said they are selling the Clinton Hill Library?
    And sorry Mike & Marsha, just responding that “The BPL can’t be trusted” or “I heard from somoeone I refuse to name who told me in a conversation at a time I refuse to pinpoint” isn’t a responce.
    Its so sad how much demegogeury and fear mongering there has been about this project. Mike and Marsha should remember that in American history things don’t usually work out for the demegogues…just ask your intellectual inspirations, President Joe McCarthy and Vice President Sarah Palin.
    As far as I can tell the BPL project and the NYPL project couldn’t be more different. We have a sad library that is badly in need of repairs, BPL gets no money (and there are lots and lots of reasons for this….doesnt change the reality of where they are) and has a smart plan to build a new library without spending more City capital.
    None of you have yet to come up with one single credible solution other than what BPL has proposed…you either claim there isn’t a problem or make some vague nonsense about getting more capital money. Well guess what…money dosent grow on trees. You want your schools renovated and expanded? Parks renovated and build? Trees planted? Streets repaved? Bridges and highways fixed and maintained? Sewers functional and repaired? Fresh drinkable water to come out of your tap? Thats ALL CITY CAPITAL MONEY AT WORK….its not a zero sum game and just pilling on more and more and more and more and more and more debt and hoping someone will pay for it won’t work.
    I hope BPL dosent bow to the pressure from the crazies.

  • marshasrimler

    you are so .. so wrong

  • bethman14

    Wait I thought the CDL line was that there aren’t any problems at their branches and the BPL was just making it all up so that they could line their pockets. Or line Bloomberg’s pockets. Or David Offensend’s pockets. Or someone’s pockets. I get confused in all the conspiracy theories, sorry.
    So now you’re admitting their branches all suck and they need money? Welcome to the Reality Based Community. We’re happy to have ya.

  • marshasrimler

    and what is your real name?

  • marshasrimler

    and who are the crazies bring McCarthy and Palin into this/
    seems like that it you..dw clinton

  • dwclinton

    Well I see you’re either incapable or unwilling to make a substantive argument to support your position. Too bad.

  • marshasrimler

    you thought wrong

  • marshasrimler

    wrong.. argument is being made with electeds..

  • dwclinton

    I’m referencing political figures who built their careers on fear mongering and division. Who value ideological fanaticism above practical solutions and facts.
    You and your friends make a lot of accusations without ever having to produce a shred of evidence. Just last week I was walking through the farmers market at Grand Army Plaza and got a pamphlet loudly proclaiming that there will be no children’s room at the new library. Says who?!?!
    I’m sorry Marsha, but you can’t just go around making stuff up. It isn’t right, and I hate to say it but will only hurt your cause in the long run.

  • marshasrimler

    you are ranting

  • Ruth Eiss

    Oh. Get over yourself. The writer carefully avoided accusations.

  • Ruth Eiss


  • Ruth Eiss

    Go Eric!

  • Ruth Eiss

    You don’t read carefully, dear. We resisted the inflated estimates but, after years of neglect, of course the library needs repair…but not demolition.

  • Ruth Eiss

    To DW

    Who every heard of erection of luxury towers “at no cost” whatsoever? ‘last I’m told, there’s no Santa Claus either.

  • Michael D. D. White

    The demise of the Central Library Plan, this supposedly “done deal” being done in this week, done in by its own lack of transparency and earnest consideration of what is really for the public benefit, should send a message to the Brooklyn Heights Association (having its annual house tour on Saturday): The BHA needs to immediately start representing the real interests of our community and those of Brooklyn and the city at large.

    The collapse of the Central Library Plan will lead to a future in which the public, all New Yorkers, will be much better served and will free up hundreds of millions of dollars that would have been expensively wasted to sell and shrink libraries in real estate boondoggles. That money will be much better used for many other libraries around the city and will go much further as a result. Some of that money could go to Brooklyn’s libraries and possibly the Brooklyn Heights Library.

    These are things the Brooklyn Heights Association should have been negotiating for from the beginning. Instead, the Brooklyn Heights Association has not been negotiating for the public at all. It has even said it wants to follow the lead of the “Friends” of the library group that, in turn, says it must do what the BPL tells it to.

    There is more that the Brooklyn Heights Association should be thinking about in terms of best practices and good civics and governance. In comment sections such as these, someone going by the nom de plume of “Reggie” has tried to defend the absolute absence of negotiation on the public’s behalf that we have witnessed from the BHA by suggesting that the BHA’s “negotiation” is happening behind the scenes, out of the public eye, as some sort of backroom deal.

    One lesson of what went wrong here is that such lack of transparency didn’t work for the NYPL’s plan. (BTW: To be fair the NYPL would describe its own plan and process as very transparent, it is just that there are few who agree.)

    Melville House (of DUMBO) has two articles that went up today that are worth looking at. One (citing Scott Sherman’s articles in the Nation) contains the following evaluation by its author about the NYPL’s waste and failure: “It would seem that the library’s leadership must openly account for these costs, as well as for the deep secrecy with which it has operated.”

    See: In a major reversal, NYPL to let the stacks live and keep Mid-Manhattan, by Kelly Burdick


    The Brooklyn Heights Library real estate sale and shrinkage deal formulated under Bloomberg administration policies and approaches shares many commonalities with the other Bloomberg era library real estate boondoggles that were launched at the same time, the Donnell Library sale for shrinkage and the Central Library Plan. At its core, this Brooklyn Heights boondoggle is not one whit better.

    Wouldn’t it be nice and highly appropriate for the Brooklyn Heights Association, like the NYPL, to reverse itself and start better attending to the public interest this week, before the BHA’s annual house tour?

  • dwclinton

    Lets be clear: CDL has made claims that the library’s repair estimates are inflated. The library has reports on its website claiming otherwise (from both DDC and an outside contractor). To my knowledge CDL has never made available a single shread of documentary evidence supporting its claim that the library is lying about the repair costs.

  • Michael D. D. White

    Arguing that there are “several very important differences” between proposals of the NYPL for selling and shrinking libraries and the the BPL’s? I love it when those boosting the BPL sales and those boosting the NYPL sales point fingers at each other acknowledging our points.. Now to yours:
    1) There is “no cost” to the BPL’s tearing down and then building a smaller library and all the associated disruptions? Really? Maybe you are indeed a taxpayer, but there are sure a lot people around these days who are fleecing the taxpayers in various ways and that includes plundering public assets.
    2) Public oversight? Really? While at the same time others arguing for the sale and shrinkage of the library say it’s a “done deal” worked out privately in backrooms? Interesting that you want to make the developer’s argument that the public process should be put off and relegated to ULURP where developers figure they can push through a non-negotiable fait accompli. I really wouldn’t tell the public it should be relaxing its guard at this point or at any point.
    3) When you “REPLACE” something with something lese smaller you are only “replacing” PART of what you have taken away. Can I “replace” your apartment with an apartment one half or a third the size? I suspect you’d be complaining.
    4) The BPL has `abandoned’ its plans to sell the Pacific St. building? That’s not the caution I have heard from City Councilman Brad Lander a week ago at the CBID meeting, or what I heard from BPL spokesperson at another similar meeting a few months ago, or from BPL president Linda Johnson at the City Council hearing (video on the web) on March 11th. There is some pretty tricky stuff being said here: `We understand that the community cares about this library, . . . BUT we just don’t know what to do with it!’ And according to Nachowitz, even more boldly, the sales plans are in no way dead. Say it ain’t so?: We wish. Where, did BPL say they are selling the Clinton Hill Library? It was a library site given to developers, one of many others, to look at in the summer of 2007. And it was reported in the real estate press. But yes, in true divide and conquer, keep the public in the dark, fashion Josh Nachowitz together with his assistant Nyla offered private assurance the BPL isn’t (now) planning to sell that library for the next “fifteen years.” Surrender to the BPL getting no money? (Or it got none under Bloomberg when he was setting up library sales?) This article is about changing that because libraries actually cost very little money in the overall scheme of things, the tiniest fraction of the city’s budge for a basic public service.

    Your nom de plume is Dewitt Clinton?

  • dwclinton

    Yes Micheal, Dewitt Clinton…a public servant with the courage to pursue big projects.
    Lets look at your “argument.”
    a) You claim the Clinton Hill library site was “given to developers in 2007.” And we’re to simply take your word for it? It was reported in the press? Where? Which developers? I guess here we just have to take your word (again, without any evidence whatsoever).
    b) Public oversight. Yes, Micheal, ULURP is a legislative process….projects do fail and do get pulled.
    c) Lets talk about your favorite scare tactic…the size of the library. The BPL tells us that the current building is almost all storage….so what you’re complaining about “eliminating” is really public space taht nobody is using at all. So no Micheal, I don’t really see that as a devestating loss.
    d) Your argument that tearing the building down and replacing it will cause disruption. Certainly, construction, building, development, is all disruptive. But I certainly think a little disruption to build a much, much better library is a good trade off.
    Here I think you accidentally reveal your real motive. You don’t want there to be any development, any building, whatsoever, in Brooklyn Heights. I really don’t think this is about the library at all. Its a crusade against real estate development. I think that if BPL walked away from its plan and never put another dime into the Brooklyn Heights library and just left it to rot you and your friends would be perfectly happy.
    New library, affordable housing, more money for libraries in poor parts of Brooklyn….really, I honestly don’t get what the problem is. Maybe its a generational thing.

  • Daniel Trotta

    BHA, obey your own Mission Statement! Even if you don’t care about libraries or the sale of public assets to developers, do what you say you are supposed to do: “We plant the trees, protect the views, preserve the brownstones and safeguard the streets. And we organize the community’s response when there is a threat.” The library plan would ruin views and the community is telling you there is a threat. So why not put all your efforts to stopping this project?

    Also from your Mission Statement: “Protecting Our Neighborhood: … Now, major development at our boundaries threatens to wall us in and increase traffic through our narrow streets. The BHA is pushing to limit building heights on our perimeter and to keep out increased traffic.” Well, you can certainly push harder on the library plan!

  • johnny cakes

    Nothing is for Nothing. Plain ‘common sense’ suggests that someone is getting something from the developers with this move to take public property away from the public for private gain. If not, they wouldn’t be doing it. Would they?

    Public servants should be serving the public – not advocating taking public land away from the public – in the sole interest of private developers.